Encoding problem-solving strategies in prefrontal cortex: activity during strategic errors

Authors

  • Aldo Genovesio,

    1. Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, Building 49, Room B1EE17, 49 Convent Drive, MSC 4401, Bethesda, MD 20892–4401 USA
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  • Satoshi Tsujimoto,

    1. Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, Building 49, Room B1EE17, 49 Convent Drive, MSC 4401, Bethesda, MD 20892–4401 USA
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  • Steven P. Wise

    1. Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, Building 49, Room B1EE17, 49 Convent Drive, MSC 4401, Bethesda, MD 20892–4401 USA
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Dr Aldo Genovesio, as above.
E-mail: genovesa@mail.nih.gov

Abstract

The primate prefrontal cortex (PF) plays a central role in choosing goals and strategies. To better understand its mechanisms, we recorded from PF neurons as monkeys used abstract response strategies to select a spatial goal. A visual cue, selected randomly from a set of three cues, appeared on each trial. All three cues were novel when neuronal recording commenced. From trial to trial, the cue could have either been repeated or changed from the previous trial; these were called repeat trials and change trials, respectively. On repeat trials, the monkeys used a Repeat–stay strategy to gain a reward by choosing the same spatial goal as on the previous trial; on change trials, they used a Change–shift strategy to reject the previous goal in favour of an alternative. We reported previously that when monkeys performed the task correctly, many PF neurons had activity encoding one of these two strategies. The monkeys sometimes chose the incorrect strategy, however. Strategy coding was weak or absent during the cue period of error trials which was, for correct trials, the time when the monkeys used a strategy to choose a future goal. By contrast, later in the trial, after the chosen goal had been attained and the monkeys awaited feedback, strategy coding was present and it reflected the strategy used, whether correct or incorrect. The weak cue-period strategy signal could, whatever its cause, have contributed to the errors made, whereas the activity prior to feedback suggests a role in monitoring task performance.

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